Social Media

American Idol Syndrome


At WordCamp last month, one of the seminars I attended was called “5 Secrets of Tech Marketing” (as it was pointed out in the introduction, this seminar wasn’t “THE 5 Secrets,” just “5 Secrets”). The final point of the presentation focused on the idea that Good Marketing is people-centric. It shouldn’t be about you and making yourself look good, nor should it be about one-upping your competitors. Good marketing is about other people- your customers.

And then the presenter brought to my attention a term I’d never heard of before: “American Idol Syndrome.” She described it as what we frequently see with contestants on American Idol- those who have overcome significant adversity in their lives tend to get the most attention on the show. With a business, this syndrome translates into “Unless you’ve got a great background story, no one will care about your brand.” This type of marketing pulls the focus away from the product/service, how you can actually be beneficial to customers, and, most importantly, it can affect your authenticity. When you’re focusing your energy on creating some sort of adversity for yourself, your actual business measures are most likely going to suffer somehow.

Another definition for American Idol Syndrome is wanting to get famous without any of the hard work to get there, i.e. becoming an overnight sensation. This is a similar idea with marketing certain products or services. You hear about people pushing their new app or phone or what-have-you, but this person comes off as incredibly showy.

Either way, American Idol Syndrome is lame as a marketing technique. Here are some ideas to focus on instead:

 Do it for the People. Like the Seth Godin quote below says, if you are creating products and trying to force them on people, you may want to reevaluate your approach. As a business, you have a whole group of people (your clients/customers) looking to you. Ideally, they trust that you’re going to give them the best advice and service that you can. If you’re trying to come up with a new product or service to offer, your first thoughts shouldn’t be “What product can I devise that will make me a zillion dollars STAT,” or “What’s going to land me on the front page of Forbes in the next two seconds.” Sure, those are lovely goals to have in mind, but in order to create quality stuff, think about what your people need. What can you create that will make their lives better?



Quality (or, Talent). With the American Idol analogy, this equals the quality of a person’s raw voice, without the instruments or amplifiers, or the showy costumes and back up dancers (are there back up dancers? I watched American Idol for one season, and I vaguely recall backup dancers). Sure, bells and whistles are fun and make a great show, but don’t be overly reliant on them. When you’re focused on the show rather than the song itself, you risk cheating your audience. They came for music- if they wanted to listen to someone playing auto-tune they would’ve downloaded the app and stayed at home. Quality (and sheer talent) isn’t something you can just phone in. If you’re doing something, and doing it well, people will notice. A little razzle dazzle is nice, but don’t blind people with glitter and showiness.

 Not all stories need to be comebacks. That may come off as a bit insensitive, but I’m talking brand stories, here. Your brand story doesn’t have to be all Forrest Gump or Rocky Balboa, as long as it’s authentic to your business. Being unique is great, and adversity builds character, but if it isn’t true to you, then it’s cool to bypass.


At the end of the slideshow, the presenter said, “Good marketing equals people. So, be a people.” This resonated with me because a) I felt like she was speaking my language, and b) it really is that simple. If you are trying to connect with someone as a corporate entity, chances are you won’t make a successful connection. When was the last time you identified with a corporation? Oh, Wal-Mart, you just get me!  File that under things no one has ever said. When you are marketing, just remember, it’s a conversation among human beings, not a “Hey watch me on national television and cast your vote” contest. 

Selfie Madness

Here’s the thing about selfies:  you may absolutely love them, or denounce them and everything they stand for, but chances are you’ve taken one. Or have at least thought about taking one. According to this infographic, about a million people take a selfie every day.


Sometimes, hearing the word “selfie” is enough to produce some heavy eye rolling, yet it’s also comical to see selfie fails go by and vaguely wonder what is happening to society. On the other hand, I feel like there’s more and more stories about people going to extreme lengths for “The Ultimate Selfie,” which in turn makes me wonder if things have perhaps gone a bit too far.

You have so many other things to be worried about right now, man.

You have so many other things to be worried about right now, man.

From what I’ve observed, it seems that people generally have two issues with selfies. The first is that they can be obnoxious in a social setting. Going out to dinner, a movie, the gym, or wherever- you may encounter people taking selfies. To me, selfies in public are kind of like seeing someone pick his nose. I’d probably prefer he didn’t, but it’s not really interrupting my life so it doesn’t bother me that much (and, hey, I might want to keep the option open for myself, so why judge?). However, if he came over and wiped his nose on me, I’d freak out a little. Unless a person’s selfie is directly interfering with another person’s life, I guess I don’t see the problem.

The second grievance is that some consider the selfie a ploy for attention, as if all selfies should be captioned: “Please look at me and give me validation. Pleeeease” To a certain extent, this is probably true. There are some interesting studies circulating these days about what goes on in our brains when we post selfies on social media. Many of these studies claim taking “too many” (interestingly, there is no actual number for the “right” amount of selfies one should take) is a sign of underlying mental disorder- namely narcissism and addiction. Then, there’s the mental process that happens after a selfie has been taken, potentially retouched, and uploaded into the world for approval. People can apparently get a bit neurotic post-posting, becoming fixated on the number of “likes,” comments, and positive/negative attention their picture receives. This kind of behavior is concerning, and the studies argue that this process of attention-seeking will set people off into this compulsive-behavior spiral of selfie taking and no one will ever find true happiness. More or less.

Some also claim that selfies are a way of “branding” ourselves as individuals, which I find pretty intriguing. It makes sense: the process is about constructing an image and presenting it to the world as “You.” Branding is about telling a story, and, when it really boils down to it, so is taking a selfie. In other words, selfies = self-definition. The problem starts when self-definition shifts from the picture itself to the amount of attention it gets from others.

This llama's selfie habit is clearly getting in the way of it's day-to-day life.

This llama’s selfie habit is clearly getting in the way of it’s day-to-day life.

Selfies aren’t all bad, though. This article brings up an interesting argument for selfies, and how they can help parents teach their kids positive lessons about self-image. Being childless, I never thought about this. The article discusses negative image issues that many women deal with post-children, and, as a result, they don’t want to appear in pictures with their children. It turns out, the advent of selfies changed all of that. Now, women are appearing in photos with their children, which will ideally impart something positive about self-worth to their kiddos: “I

want them to learn that we, as their parents, see ourselves as good enough to star alongside them in the photographic records of their lives.” It’s a good point- we’re all setting examples, whether we realize it or not, so why not make it a positive example?

Ultimately, people are going to keep taking selfies, and there will be ongoing speculation about mental stability and what filter someone’s using. Whatever your stance on selfie taking, just remember: no duckface.

Unless you are literally a duck.

Unless you are literally a duck.

Pick a Card, Any Card: The 8 Twitter Cards and Your Website


Last year, Twitter introduced a new feature called Twitter Cards. They’ve really started to push the Cards this summer, around the time that I was getting introduced to Twitter generally (and no, I do not in fact, live under a rock). It seemed worthwhile to investigate, and determine if Twitter Cards are actually beneficial or just another pushy social media experiment.

What is a Twitter Card?

An example of a Gallery Card, from

An example of a Gallery Card, from

It may not appear to be anything impressive or noteworthy- look at it, it’s just a picture and some words, and it happens to be on Twitter. So what? As is the case with most internet-related content, there’s actually more than meets the eye here. A website has to have Twitter Cards set up in order for this image to happen, otherwise, any links that get shared on Twitter will show up as, well, links (more on Card setup later).

There are 8 different kinds of Twitter Cards (and you can have as many as you want):

  1. Gallery (a mini photo gallery, in a 4×4 set up- see above)
  2. Summary (shows page title, description, featured image, and Twitter handle)
  3. Photo (self-explanatory, but also shares photos from other places, like Flickr)
  4. App (Shares an app and its download link)
  5. Player (Plays audio or video right on Twitter)
  6. Product (displays a product from your site, description, cost)
  7. Lead Generation (displays item, such as ebook or newsletter, with a “sign-up” or “subscribe” button that automatically signs a person up using their Twitter account e-mail
  8. Website (displays homepage or desired landing page, site title, a featured image, and “Read More” button).

The great thing is that you don’t even have to use all of these cards (or any, for that matter). Just determine what appears to be the most beneficial for your business, and use those. Do you have an online store? Consider the product card. Are you an App developer? You probably should have the App Card. And so on.

Since Twitter Cards are relatively new, there isn’t enough big data to showcase their success (or lack thereof). Here are a list of pros and cons:

Why They’re Cool:

First, Twitter Cards give Twitter a more visual component. Sure, you could share pictures before, but if you wanted to link to a website, it wouldn’t pull up a picture to go along with the text. As we’ve mentioned before, when you can integrate appropriate visuals to enhance text, people are usually more interested in what you have to say.

Not only do the cards make Twitter a more visual platform, they also work for your website. For example, the Summary card gives viewers a rundown of what your website is all about, which may be more enticing than a bare link. An image, brief description, and title are more appealing (and have more value) to the human psyche than a string of letters and maybe some symbols. Additionally, having a Player Card for your audio and visual content could get more people watching your video. I’ll admit, I’m a bit lazy, and the more things I have to click through to watch a minute long video, the less likely I am to commit. The Player Card lets you watch it right on Twitter. The Lead Generation Card also makes life convenient for your followers: This newsletter looks interesting, but it’s probably a pain to subscribe…Oh wait, I just had to click the button? Boom!

Finally, Twitter Cards have their own set of analytics that you can follow. We LOVE analytics! You can see how many people are clicking on your tweet, how many are getting to your website, and which cards are generating the most engagement. If posts with Player Cards are getting a large response, but Gallery Cards are getting ignored, you can figure out where to focus your energy (and maybe just nix the Gallery Cards altogether).

A sample of the analytics you can get from the cards.

A sample of the analytics you can get from the cards.

Why They’re Annoying:

It seems like this is Twitter’s way of getting in on the visual game, moving towards Facebook or Google+’s image sharing capabilities. As someone with a younger brother, I’m overly sensitive to the whole “copycat” business. Be yourself, Twitter!

The message that “this is good for you and your business!” may be true, but don’t be fooled- Twitter Cards are just as much for Twitter as they are for you. They’re looking for ways to boost numbers of users and engagement for their own purposes, and they’re hoping the Card option will achieve just that.

You have to jump through some hoops to set it up, and is it really worth it? Ok, in the grand scheme of the universe, 15 minutes or less isn’t really that much of a commitment. But seeing the meta tags that one has to add on a website seems a bit daunting, even for someone who is somewhat familiar with code. The good news is that sites running on Wordpress have a few plug-ins that can do the heavy-lifting. Otherwise, you have to do it manually.

Sample code for setting up Photo Cards. Eek?

Sample code for setting up Photo Cards. Eek?

The best way to determine if Twitter Cards are worth your while is to try it out for a bit. Most of the “annoying” occurs during the set-up process, but you may end up reaping some serious benefits. Check out your own analytics, and if you see an uptick in engagement or traffic to your website, it’s probably worth it.

3 Instagram Apps To Make Your Life Way Easier

I am the first person to admit my life is hardly Instagrammable it seems. But I’m trying to take this opportunity of Instagram to be a sort of ‘stop and smell the flowers’ kind of thing. What little thing can I notice that’s interesting? What artistic spin can I put on something ordinary?

But I’ve recently been looking at Instagram a lot and realizing some people are either way more attractive/on top of it than I am… either that or they have some tools at their disposal I hadn’t considered. Of course, it was (mostly) the latter.

Here are three categories of app you may have wished Instagram had (and other social networks seem to do already) and how you can be the master of your own destiny.


Instagram Feat #1: Being Really Ridiculously Good Looking

So I just thought everyone on Instagram was good looking… until I discovered some apps. In particular, moreBeaute2 (I appreciate the Frenchness of that, personally).

There are tons of apps that make you look better with but the subtle(ish) Photoshoppy quality of this one, it is my favorite. Some lipstick, my hair done, and a better camera angle and I would have been Instagram worthy today too! (Apparently VSCOcam can also take this to another level if you like messing with color balance, temperature, etc. but honestly, the moreBeaute2 was enough of an improvement for me.)

Before (yes I tie my hair back usually when I’m working):
2014-08-12 11.46.43

After (Yes, I used this crappy picture on purpose- Imagine how ridiculously good looking I could have been had I used a great one!)

2014-08-12 11.46.37

Instagram Feat #2: Resharing That Person’s Clever Post

So I saw this go by a couple weeks ago and was like YES! (Mainly because I had an accent at one point in my life but worked hard to get rid of it because people made me feel less than with it):

2014-08-04 06.35.14

So how do you reshare something? Well there are two ways:

1) Use the Repost app (gives an obnoxiously large attribution on the image).
2) Use the Instagrab app.

I kind of wish there was a way to attribute that was a little less subtle than having something in the comments and a little less obnoxious that attribution covers up an important part of the image but alas, Instagram can’t be everything.

Instagram Feat #3: Messaging People

So there is no way to message people in Instagram… or so we think.

Kik exists for just such a purpose... but according to Derrick appears to mainly be porn bots looking for victims (um, I mean, send targeted traffic to a paid site). Maybe we’re just not the target audience (apparently 16-20 year olds are the heaviest app users).

There is also Instagram Direct, which is a way for users to somewhat contact other users directly and privately.

Instagram is a lot like Twitter in that its open platform have allowed others to develop using it. Facebook is a more insular model: as users, we have to wait for Facebook to create the things we want.

There is no doubt other things you want to do on Instagram but those seem to be some of the big things available in some other social networks out there. Have at!

P.S. If you want to read an article to make yourself feel better at all those effortless-seeming Instagram posts you see other people do, this article is for you: As someone who has not yet pissed off a loved one or been late to work due to Instagram, I hope my streak continues… but maybe with some better photos in my stream.


Seasons of Hashtag


We’ve talked a bit about hashtags before (what they do, how you can use them), but this is just the tip of the iceberg, friends. The hashtag has great and terrible powers, much like Excalibur, the One Ring, Dr. Who’s screwdriver, or Silly Putty (I don’t get what it does, but it’s SO fun!).


Ok, maybe a bit of a hyperbole, but when you’re marketing on social media, you don’t want to hashtag whimsically.  Or, maybe you do…but you shouldn’t. This post is dedicated to something I just came up with called “hashtagging with a purpose.” One method of hashtagging purposefully is to use something seasonally appropriate. This could be weather related (#snowstorm, #heatwave, etc), holiday related, wardrobe (#flipflops) , or food related (#sugarcookies or #strawberries). You can even use the names of the seasons themselves.

Step 1 is finding a relevant hashtag. The good news with this step: there are a great number of tools out there. You can always go on Twitter and check out what’s trending on the sidebar, or search a hashtag you’re considering to see if it’ll get attention (more info on general hashtagging here).  Seasonal hashtags are cyclic, and only work during certain points in the year. For instance, you don’t want to use #halloween in the dead of March. Also, anything to do with comfy sweaters and boots should probably be reserved for the fall/winter months.

Observe: Analytics of #winter (just from today)

Observe: Analytics of #winter (just from today)

...compared to use of #summer, also from today. See what I mean?

…compared to use of #summer, also from today. See what I mean?

Step 2 is knowing what sorts of hashtags your target consumer will appreciate. Around the winter holiday season, there’s some tension around holiday recognition. One solution for this problem is avoiding specific holidays (i.e. using #happyholidays instead of #merrychristmas). Maybe even use #festivus. This way, no one gets excluded from your posts. Another solution is to hashtag ALL the holidays. I wouldn’t recommend this route, because a) it’s overwhelming and annoying for your followers, and b) you will exhaust yourself and probably go insane trying to keep up with every holiday. Either keep it general (and include everyone), or only use the holidays you know your audience will follow.

Remember, you can #prettymuch #hashtag #anything. But it doesn’t mean you should.

Out of curiosity, I searched for #hashtag, and was pleased with this response.

Out of curiosity, I searched for #hashtag, and was pleased with this response.

The New Facebook Layout and You

Facebook has changed its layout (surprise, surprise), and this time, only Pages are affected. If your business has a Facebook Page (which it hopefully does), you may want to perk your ears. Last month, when we heard about the upcoming change, we went ahead and updated our Breaking Even page to get a lay of the land.

Here are some observations we’ve made about the layout:


  • There’s more emphasis on video and photo. On the left sidebar, there is now a prominent display of your photos and videos. If your page doesn’t have a lot of either, this may be an opportunity for you to beef up that section of your page.  Basically, the left column is dedicated to your “brand,” so before updating, take a look at your pictures (and videos, if you have them). It’s also good to remember that people love visuals anyway (“a picture is worth a thousand words”- and no one wants to be reading a thousand words on Facebook).

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 3.53.38 PM

  • The overall feel of the Pages are less “cluttery.”  And, this is good for a couple of reasons. First, it’s aesthetically more appealing to have a clean looking page. When there’s too much going on, regardless of the site in question, it can be overwhelming and a bit frustrating. Second, it makes navigation easier for anyone who visits your page. Posts used to be disorganized (i.e. they weren’t displayed by date, and in general there was no rhyme or reason to how they were displaying), and for me, this was annoying. Now, there’s a clear chronological path people can follow, as opposed to the previous helter skelter format.
  • Business pages now resemble individual profiles. In the grand scheme of things, this makes Facebook more coherent as a site. While Facebook still focuses most of it’s energy on people, there seems to be a move to make Pages more prominent. Profiles and Pages will always function differently, but keeping the visual appearance consistent is a smart move. Thumbs up, Zuckerburg.
  • It’s easier for administrators to navigate. Accessing the various analytics and the activity log is roughly a hundred times easier with the new layout. As someone who manages a variety of Pages, I appreciate this. Finding what’s been posted, what’s been scheduled, and keeping track of messages or notifications is WAY easier now (I may have shed a few tears of joy with this one).


This is basically an admin's dream come true.
This is basically an admin’s dream come true.


  • You can customize the layout (within reason). Facebook does not want to relinquish too much control over customization, probably to avoid the potential of the horror show that was MySpace profiles. *Shudder* But, with the new Pages, you can drag  and drop the sections of your page to reorder them.  All you have to do is click the little Edit icon on any section, and boom! You’re ready to reorder your page.


June 19th is the official date when everything will automatically shift. For more information on what Facebook is saying about the new layout, this is a great article. And, at the risk of sounding like a nerd, I’d also recommend taking the “Tour” Facebook offers once you update your Page (it’s free and you can really make the most of the new layout). Have fun!Tour

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